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The Building in Public How-To Guide

At Chapter One, we like to say we invest in cults. But what does that really mean? Here are a few examples from our portfolio:

  • Roam Research, a note-taking tool for networked thought, exploded to nearly 10,000 subscribers in two months, reaching $1.2M ARR within 60 days of launching a paid plan. Roam fostered an obsessive community of users, leading to vibrant groups on Slack (6,000+ members), Reddit (nearly 6,000 members in /r/RoamResearch), and GitHub (over 100 Roam-related repositories).
  • Lambda School, an online immersive computer science academy, processed 60,000 applications in 2019 — 50% more than Harvard — and scheduled over 1,000 job interviews for Lambda grads.
  • Superhuman, marketed as “the fastest email experience ever made,” garnered a waitlist of nearly 300,000 people, mastering the art of “launching without launching.”

Cults, excellent marketing, or simply a strong brand community — call it what you want, but there’s no doubt that these products have sparked excitement across a growing user base. The question now becomes, How do I foster an experience like this for my own product? Enter the ever-growing strategy of building in public.

Creating a product isn’t always an easy journey. Pioneered by the likes of Joel Gascoigne of Buffer and Ryan Hoover of Product Hunt, the idea of building in public leans into this authenticity, encouraging founders to share their journey—including the struggles along the way. Products constantly grow and evolve; building in public allows startups to take their audience & community along for the ride.

Why Build in Public?

“Authenticity consists in having a true and lucid consciousness of the situation, in assuming the responsibilities and risks that it involves, in accepting it in pride or humiliation, sometimes in horror and hate.” — Jean Paul Sartre

Building in public:

  • Creates a narrative that an audience can follow & get behind. Who doesn’t love a sneak peek? Building in public gives your audience a preview of what’s to come, capturing the attention of consumers and creating an excited community of supporters.
  • Builds trust: both internally (at the company) and externally (to an audience).
  • Makes you more approachable. Authenticity inspires loyalty, encouraging people both in and outside of your company to engage in direct, honest conversations about your vision and strategy. (related: Authenticity Dammit)
  • Builds your status as an expert in a specific field.
  • Invites immediate feedback from users following your journey. It can be difficult for startup teams to see usability issues when they exist so close to their own product. Building in public allows for a fresh perspective, resulting in better products and less wasted time. (related: Identifying Useful Feedback)
  • Emphasizes an honest and hard-working company culture.
  • Attracts talent to your company. There are many recent case studies of this — Lambda School, Fast, and even larger companies like Shopify and Tesla have utilized building in public to attract employees. As articulated by Turner Novak, General Partner at Gelt VC, “It has to be genuine, but it can lower TAC, CAC, and even cost of equity if it works.”

Success Stories

Building in public allows founders to build teams, drive widespread support, attract investors, and foster a community of users and early adopters. Currently, some of the most well-known leaders of the “building in public” phenomenon are Austen Allred, Founder & CEO of Lambda School, Domm, Founder & CEO of Fast, and Suhail, Founder & CEO of Mighty:

  • Allred used Twitter to cultivate a brand following, encouraging his followers to publicly brainstorm with him. As the face of Lambda School, Allred utilized the strategy of building in public to consistently remind his followers of his bold vision. Every time he celebrated a company win, he had thousands of followers to celebrate with him; similarly, if he faced a struggle or roadblock, the community was there to offer support.
  • Domm used Twitter to build Fast from the ground up. He met his cofounder Allison Barr Allen through a cold DM, hired team members from Twitter, and even made connections with VCs and angels through Twitter, leading Fast to a $20M Series A round in March.
  • Suhail took followers along for the ride with daily tweets documenting his progress. If you click into the thread below, you can see the mind-blowing megathread that outlines the entire history of Mighty, from the very first line of code all the way to YC S19 Demo Day:

The Building in Public Playbook

What does this playbook look like in action? Below is an excerpt from a piece I recently cowrote:

  • Share real quotes & screenshots of feedback from users
  • Propose interesting product ideas and ask the community for feedback
  • Articulate roadblocks the company is facing and how to overcome them
  • Give insight into largely unknown aspects of the company/product
  • Share “sneak peeks” and vague product updates for things to come
  • Post screenshots of internal Slack messages showcasing company culture
  • Tell emotional stories about your company to pull at followers’ heartstrings
  • Quote Tweet someone describing a problem and respond “We are fixing this at …”

[Note: this is an excerpt. To read the article in full, click here.]

Today, there’s an abundance of tools to empower creators to build in public. Arguably, the most impactful tool in this space is Twitter, which allows people to personally engage with others and broadcast information to the masses. Other resources include Medium (long-form storytelling), Intercom (communication & direct access to users), Patreon (audience-based fundraising), and many more.

There’s a growing trend towards transparency. Will you be a part of it?

This is a Chapter One How-To Guide. Stay up-to-date with our inaugural Product Club cohort by following us on Twitter and checking out our public Notion notebook.

Written by

Investing @BessemerVP & studying Symbolic Systems @Stanford. Previously @ChapterOne. Follow me @gaby_goldberg.

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